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300 attend Idaho Farm Bureau’s 83rd annual meeting

By Sean Ellis

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation

BOISE – During Idaho Farm Bureau Federation’s 83rd annual meeting, president Bryan Searle exhorted members to continue to defend and promote agriculture.

“In agriculture … today, we’re facing more challenges than I think we’ve ever faced,” he said. “We can’t sit idle.”

It’s up to farmers and ranchers themselves to defend agriculture and ensure the industry is strong for this and future generations, said Searle, who farms near Shelley.

The Farm Bureau organization provides agricultural producers an opportunity to unite as one voice and do just that, he said.

From the county to the state level, Farm Bureau is recognized as a unified organization that speaks for farmers, Searle said.

“Keep that in mind: We are the voice of agriculture,” he said. “We’re looked at and respected in the Statehouse as the voice of agriculture. They come to us why? Because we have voices in every county in this state.”

More than 11,000 farmers and ranchers in the state are members of Idaho Farm Bureau Federation and together, they can and do make a difference, Searle said.

“It’s (about) all of us coming together for the good of agriculture so that we can go forward and continue to be a stronger voice for agriculture,” he said. “I thank you for all that you do. You are the best of the best.”

Three hundred people attended IFBF’s annual meeting, which was held Dec. 6-8 in Boise.

In addition to Farm Bureau members from across the state, industry partners from other ag groups, legislators, state officials and representatives of Idaho’s congressional delegation also attended the event.

Gov. Brad Little, a farmer and rancher, addressed meeting participants by video and vowed to continue his support of the state’s agriculture and natural resource industries.

“The agriculture and natural resources industries are a big part of the Idaho way of life and always will be,” he said. “As governor, I will continue to do what I can to support these industries.”

Searle reminded participants that it’s the state’s county Farm Bureau organizations that are the backbone of Idaho Farm Bureau Federation.

He likened the Farm Bureau organization to a rocket that functions perfectly only when all of its components are working and said that with Farm Bureau, it all starts at the county level.

“When county Farm Bureaus are strong, Idaho Farm Bureau is strong and when the state is strong, American Farm Bureau is strong and our voice is heard and recognized,” Searle said.

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation CEO Zak Miller told meeting participants that the organization’s grassroots members, real farmers and ranchers, set the direction for IFBF and the job of IFBF staff is to help them succeed.

“Staff is an asset to help you accomplish what your goals are,” he said. “Our job is to help you achieve the direction you are looking toward to succeed.”

Todd Argall, CEO of Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co. of Idaho, told meeting participants the financial condition of the company is strong and improving. He also said the same is true of the relationship between the insurance company and Idaho Farm Bureau Federation.

“We view our relationship with the federation as critical,” he said. “A strong federation leads to a strong insurance company and a strong insurance company leads to a strong federation.”

The annual meeting included several learning sessions, including ones on managed aquifer recharge, increasing a farm’s profitability, and farm safety.

For the first time, a Joint Water Seminar was hosted during the meeting, by IFBF, Idaho Grain Producers Association and Idaho Water Users Association.

Presenters discussed the Nez Perce Water Agreement and gave updates on the discussion about the lower four Snake River dams, which are critical to agriculture in the region but continue to be targeted for removal by some groups.

Water attorney Norm Semanko provided a brief overview of the complicated history of the Nez Perce Water Agreement and reminded people that the term of the 30-year agreement ends in 2034.

The agreement was reached in 2004 and settled the Nez Perce tribe’s water rights claims in the Snake River basin.

State, private, tribal and U.S. representatives worked for several years to develop terms of the agreement that provided mutual benefits to the tribes, as well as Snake River water users.

Robust discussion for and against the agreement occurred and included busloads of people from around the state showing up for public hearings, Semanko said.

“The Farm Bureau played an immensely important role fostering the public discussion around (the agreement) and allowing the decision-makers to make an informed decision,” he said.

A roundtable of water experts discussed the agreement and answered questions.

It’s important for people to understand the issue and why the agreement was reached “because 12 years will come fast and you’ll have (a) decision to make,” said water attorney John Simpson.

“We need to start talking now about what is going to happen” when the agreement expires, said Garrick Baxter, who deals with water issues for the Idaho attorney general’s office.

Searle said the water seminar was long overdue.

“It’s no secret we’re all here because of your concern about water,” he said. “It’s our lifeblood in Idaho. We need more of these meetings … to be proactive and protect our water here in Idaho.”

The heart of IFBF’s annual meeting is always the House of Delegates session, where representatives of county Farm Bureau organizations around Idaho discuss and vote on proposed changes to Idaho Farm Bureau Federation’s policy book.

Every voting delegate is a bona fide farmer or rancher and the proposed policies are developed at the county level.

They are vetted and discussed before reaching the House of Delegates and then they are debated again before being voted on.

Water and wolves are always major topics of discussion during the House of Delegates.

This year, delegates voted down a proposal that would have supported legislation “that all water delivery entities be given five years to begin, develop and implement an aquifer recharge management plan with the Idaho Department of Water Resources.”

Opponents of the proposal argued it was unnecessary and too vague. Supporters said the proposal was meant to increase the dialogue and education about aquifer recharge.

“I don’t think it’s necessary; I don’t know where this is going,” said Dale Mortimer of Jefferson County. “It seems like more paperwork and regulations without specific direction.”

Delegates also voted against a proposal that supported “Improving efficiency of water management and delivery systems for the optimal use of Idaho’s water.”

Supporters of that proposed policy said it was intended to find ways to better use Idaho’s limited water resources and ultimately ensure there is enough water for farmers and ranchers.

Again, opponents said it was too vague and they questioned who would measure what “efficiency” is.

Everyone agrees with water efficiency, “the problem is there is no way to measure this efficiency, and who does it?” said Tom Billington of Twin Falls County Farm Bureau. “’Efficiency’ for one system may take another system out.”

The delegates voted in favor of a new policy that supports creating a state of Idaho employee to oversee and coordinate wolf and grizzly bear management efforts in the state among both state and federal agencies.

“In this case, we need a little more government,” said Phil Davis of Valley-Adams County Farm Bureau. “It’s appropriate the state of Idaho pay for an employee dealing with this.”

The delegates also supported a proposal that originated out of Caribou County that supports the “creation of a wildlife management system where property owners and Idaho Department of Fish and Game cooperatively manage wildlife, and income generated from that management unit be shared between both parties.”

Caribou County Farm Bureau President Lori Anne Lau said these types of agreements have been successful in Utah and seven other states and they recognize contributions made by private landowners to provide habitat on their land.

“It helps create a great revenue stream for these (landowners) and a cooperative system between fish and game, landowners and hunters,” she said.